Atlanta: Crowds chanted "Justice! Justice!" as they rallied in dozens of US cities on Sunday, urging authorities to change self-defense laws and press federal civil rights charges against a former neighbourhood watch leader found not guilty in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.
The National Action Network, led by the Rev Al Sharpton, a prominent civil rights activist, organised the "Justice for Trayvon" rallies and vigils today outside federal buildings in more than 100 cities one week after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated central Florida community.
The case has become a flashpoint in separate but converging national debates over self-defense, guns, and race relations. Zimmerman, who successfully claimed that he was protecting himself when he shot Martin, identifies himself as Hispanic. Martin was black.
In Atlanta, speakers noted that the rally took place in the shadows of federal buildings named for two figures who had vastly differing views on civil rights and racial equality: Richard B Russell was a Georgia governor and US senator elected when racial segregation was practiced in southern US states; the Rev Martin Luther King Jr is the face of African-Americans` civil rights movement.
"What`s so frightening about a black man in a hood?" said the Rev Raphael Warnock, who now occupies the pulpit at King`s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, or hoodie, when he was shot.
In New York, hundreds of people, including Martin`s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and music superstars Jay-Z and Beyonce, gathered in the heat.
Fulton told the crowd she was determined to fight for changes needed to ensure that black youths are no longer viewed with suspicion because of their skin color.
"I promise you I`m going to work for your children as well," she told the crowd.
Earlier today, at Sharpton`s headquarters in Harlem, she implored people to understand that the tragedy involved more than Martin alone. "Today it was my son. Tomorrow it might be yours," she said.
In addition to pushing the Justice Department to investigate civil rights charges against Zimmerman, Sharpton told supporters In New York that he wants to see a rollback of stand-your-ground self-defense laws.
"We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again," Sharpton said. His daughters, Ashley and Dominique Sharpton, were scheduled to lead a follow-up march today in Harlem.
Stand-your-ground laws are on the books in more than 20 states, and they go beyond many older, traditional self-defense statutes. In general, stand-your-ground laws eliminate a person`s duty to retreat, if possible, in the face of a serious physical threat.